I had a video chat with comedy performer Mr Twonkey (Paul Vickers) on FaceTime but I could only see him as a frozen, fuzzy presence.
PAUL: That’s just the way I look.
JOHN: Where are you? Edinburgh?
PAUL: Yes, on the shore at Leith in my windmill.
JOHN: Your windmill in Edinburgh.
JOHN: You wanted to talk to me to wantonly plug your show at the Bill Murray comedy club in Islington next Thursday (7th February).
PAUL: And I’m at the Leicester Comedy Festival the weekend after that – Saturday 9th.
JOHN: The same show?
PAUL: Yes. Well, the same show with a different title.
JOHN: The last time I talked to you, there seemed to be a planned, linear progression to your shows. I was quite shocked.
PAUL: Well, to me there’s a plan, but people just think they’re… well, just… well… mental… But to me there’s a plan.
JOHN: So what’s this new show about?
PAUL: A conspiracy theory. The idea that all the weather we currently experience is generated in one small factory in the Dordogne in France. And the ‘front’ for it is a cake decorating shop. Behind the scenes, they are making weather, but it is mal-functioning. So I go to investigate. That’s the central crux… There are connections with Leonardo da Vinci.
JOHN: Which are?
PAUL: Apparently he had plans to re-invent the weather.
JOHN: Title of the show?
PAUL: My original title was Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change but, when I told my PR, the phone went silent. Now it’s called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. She didn’t like Whizz, Weathercock, Whizz! either. Next Thursday will be the first time I’ve performed it. The other night, we wrote a new song for it because we were watching Neil Diamond videos and became inspired. So now there’s a new bit in the show about a temporary exhibition of Neil Diamond stage costumes at Luton Airport.
JOHN: Separate from this show, you have a new music album coming out…
PAUL: Yes. There’s a new Paul Vickers and The Leg album called Jump! There have been some problems on that with label changes, but I think what is going to happen is… Well, I don’t know what is going to happen at all. The main thing we’re focussed on is getting it finished. We’re mixing it at the moment. It takes a long time to finish a record because, when you get five grumpy men in a room, it takes a while.
JOHN: Are you going to tour with the band?
PAUL: Hopefully. But it’s a case of time and money. There’s a lot of things I would like to do. My play about David Lynch is ready, but it’s too expensive for me to do at the moment.
JOHN: Why expensive?
PAUL: I need actors and actors cost money. The last time I did a play – Jennifer’s Robot Arm – it cost me a fortune. The trouble with plays is the cost escalates. It’s like digging a hole and just throwing loads of money into it. Whereas, with a Twonkey show, there’s a limit to how much the cost can escalate because it’s basically just me and what I buy in junk shops.
JOHN: How is your good lady? Is she still making props for you?
PAUL: Yes. And buying me things. The other day, she bought me a xylophone that plays by itself, but I think it’s broken. It sounds wrong and wobbles a lot.
JOHN: But, then, so do I… Is it having creative differences with itself?
PAUL: It appears so. It’s quite rusty as well. Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver but it sounds very strange now.
JOHN: It plays itself?
PAUL: Because it’s from the early 1970s, the way you program it is with a coil. It’s kinda like an auto-piano that you would get in a Wild West saloon. It’s very old and broken.
JOHN: But, then, so am I and, if you tweaked me with a screwdriver…. What else have you been doing?
PAUL: I made a little video in the western town in Morningside…
JOHN: Western town? Morningside??? The very posh part of Edinburgh?
PAUL: Yes. Behind the library, there’s a street that’s like the Wild West.
PAUL: It was built for some advertising thing. There’s a saloon and a canteen. It’s like a proper little Wild West street. It used to be a dance hall; now it’s a street.
JOHN: What is the video about?
PAUL: Cheese. How America lacks high quality cheese… American cheese is kinda plastic cheese. Was there ever a point where they tried to introduce European or exotic cheeses into America? I had the idea there was a time in the Wild West where cheese was more valuable than gold. So I’m trying to smuggle cheese and I steal the sheriff’s cheese and he tries to win it back. It’s very simple.
JOHN: What triggered you into thinking about the low quality of cheese in the USA?
PAUL: I just couldn’t think of any high-quality American cheese. In this country, every different region has its own cheese. And I thought: That surely must be the case in America; they must be making some kind of local cheese… but they’re not. Why not? But they love cheese.
JOHN: Their showbiz can be quite cheesy. There’s Brie Larson.
PAUL: But does she generate genuine cheese?
JOHN: I don’t know her that well.
PAUL: There is no great American cheese. It is such poor quality that it can’t officially be classed as cheese.
JOHN: Who says?
PAUL: The cheesemongers of the world. The Cheese Police. (LAUGHS)
JOHN: Is there some official supervisory cheese body?
PAUL: There must be. You can’t get away with just knocking out anything and calling it cheese. There must be someone who says: “Hang on a minute… That’s not proper cheese!”
JOHN: Is all this because American cows are below par?
PAUL: The thing about America is it’s massive. They’ve got snake farms. There are places out in the woods where they’re making things in a DIY homemade manner. You would think somewhere out there someone would be making high quality cheese…
You would think maybe someone with French ancestry would be thinking: I want to make a really smelly, runny cheese. But I don’t think there’s anyone in America doing that. I have Googled extensively online and the best I could come up with was Vermont Cheddar which, if you put it on a plate in France, they would say: “Well, that is… average.”
I have never been to Vermont. All I know is the Captain Beefheart song Moonlight on Vermont.
JOHN: Does Moonlight on Vermont include any reference to cheese?
PAUL: I don’t think he mentions cheese.
JOHN: I seem to remember cheese being a motif in previous shows of yours.
PAUL: It is. It’s one of the things I focus on. Certain things keep coming back: cheese, World War Two, escapology, engineering and witchcraft. But you Google American cheese. You’d be amazed.
JOHN: I don’t doubt it.
PAUL: The country that invented the cheeseburger doesn’t have decent cheese.
JOHN: Did they invent the cheeseburger?
PAUL: Well, they invented fast food. Have you seen that film The Founder?
JOHN: About Colonel Sanders?
PAUL: No, about the guy who started McDonald’s. Except he didn’t start McDonald’s. He went into business with the McDonald brothers and their original intention was high-quality fast food.
The way they did it was they didn’t open a restaurant first; they booked a tennis court, got a piece of chalk and divided the tennis court into different areas for preparing different types of food, then employed staff who came to the tennis court and they mapped-out a kitchen and they were directing people round this tennis court to see who could make the quickest high-quality cheeseburger. Then they built a restaurant to the exact specifications of the tennis court.
JOHN: Didn’t the net get in the way?”
PAUL: I think they maybe took down the net. We have gone off-track…
JOHN: I feel there is a rock opera to be written about cheese and you are the man to do it.
PAUL: The Americans invented jazz and fast food… And that’s it… We are going off-track.
JOHN: So you are performing at the Bill Murray in London on Thursday.
PAUL: Yes. Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.
JOHN: And then at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Saturday 9th February..
PAUL: Yes. Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change.
JOHN: Which is the same show, but with a different title.
JOHN: And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, it will be called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch?
JOHN: That seems reasonable.
… Mr TWONKEY’s MORNINGSIDE VIDEO IS ON YOUTUBE …